Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Gwithian to St Ives - walking the South West Coast Path

In the morning I anxiously checked with Frank whether he had heard me shouting in the night. If I had been yelling all night in addition to all the shouting which accompanied my choking fit I feared I may be asked never to return. Thankfully he said he had not heard a thing. We packed up and Frank brewed us a cup of coffee which we accompanied with a croissant freshly delivered to the campsite that morning. This was an excellent way to start the day and we set off in good spirits. After making our way over the dunes we set off along the beach.The dunes behind the beach here are known as the Towans, backing four miles of sand. Different sections have different names: there is Upton Towans, Gwithian Towans, Phillack Towans and the intriguingly named Mexico Towans, and part of the dunes for a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Useful for the garden

Spiny Starfish

At the end of the beach we reached the mouth of the River Hayle. Frank has walked this section before and intimated he was not really looking forward to the next section which involved a long detour inland to the bridge to get around the Hayle estuary. He told me that last time he was here he had suggested wading across the mouth of the river, and indeed had set out to do so, but the rest of his party had sensibly refused to accompany him. It looks tempting as it is not very wide and the detour is sooo long but I informed Frank that I had no intention of wading across either and we would just have to walk around it. The River Hayle has dangerous currents and wading across is strictly prohibited.

At the mouth of the estuary is Hayle's port, for a long time derelict wasteland but now evidently in the throes of a regeneration project, on this side of the harbour at least, with a new quay and walkway in place. We stopped for a pasty at Philps 'Famous Pasties of Cornwall' (We have been living on pasties this week) and I bought ourselves a little pasty fridge magnet to remind me of the walk although I've eaten so many recently that I suspect that by the time I get home I won't want to even look at a pasty let alone put one on my fridge door.

Pasty time!

Hayle does not feel like a particularly prosperous town and is looking a little tired now, but I guess this is not really surprising, given its energetic history - in the nineteenth century Hayle was the most important mining port and steam engine manufacturing centre in the world with two major employers: Harveys & Co and the Cornish Copper Company. Harveys and Co also made the largest beam engines ever constructed which were exported worldwide. Jane Harvey, daughter of the company's founder John Harvey, married Richard Trevethick who went on to invent several engines using 'strong' ie. high pressure steam, including the first steam locomotive which in 1804 pulled 25 tons of iron and 70 passengers nine miles from Penydarren to Abercynon. Trevethick was responsible for countless other inventions but never achieved either recognition or financial security; he was declared bankrupt during his lifetime and died penniless, buried in an unmarked grave. Hayle is doing its best to give Trevethick the reputation he deserves.

Beam Engine, Hayle
Memorial in Hayle
River Hayle
Walking the road out of Hayle and across the causeway to cross the river was not particularly pleasant, along a narrow pavement and a busy road. It is surprising how quickly one begins to hugely resent traffic after a couple of days walking on car free routes. Finally, after a rather unpleasant pavementless stretch (where Frank gallantly offered to walk in front) we gratefully turned off the busy road onto a quiet and pretty minor road through Lelant alongside the railway line back towards the coast where we stopped for a quick nosey around little St Uny's Church, perched on the edge of the dunes. In 1887 the West Briton (a paper founded in 1810 and still going strong) said:

In 1538 it was considered dangerous to come to Lelant because of the pirates, but nowadays one can hardly go to a pleasanter place, commanding such beautiful seascape and landscape views. Fortunate is it that some 329 miles intervene between it and London Bridge that so fair a spot may not be overrun and spoilt.

Despite the proximity of the railway line, I felt St Uny's and Lelant did indeed remain a peaceful and fair place.

In St Uny's Church

Seventeenth Century slate memorial in St Uny's
Looking back towards Lelant

St Ives is within reach!

Ducking under the railway line we finally were back on the coast and resumed our south-westerly direction across the dunes. The path was firm and we made good progress, but the air was humid. At the end of the dunes the path crept round the headland to the gorgeous little cove at Carbis Bay; a crescent of golden sand backed by verdant, bracken covered cliffs. Tucked into the corner was the Carbis Bay Hotel, designed by Silvanus Trevail. We ordered a pot of tea in the beach cafe and sat in the shade to cool off for a bit.

Carbis Bay
The last section into St Ives took us along Hain Walk, a pleasant path flanked by the gardens of Treloyan Manor with exotic looking plants and flowers. Just above Porthminster Point was the Baulking House, another huer's hut used for spotting shoals of pilchards as they came into the bay. (The other one I came across was on the outskirts of Newquay, see here.)

The Baulking House

And then suddenly we were walking into St Ives down the narrow street known as The Warren and the end of our little expedition. We had an hour to spare before the bus was due to take us back to Perranporth and we could think of no better use of sixty minutes then to find a pub and celebrate with a pint of ale. The streets were thronged with tourists all having a good time and we joined them for a while before we (somehow) fell into the Union Inn, ordered a pint of Doombar, and toasted the end of our trip.

Over the past couple of months I had now walked all the coast path from Minehead to Penzance in different stages. Challenging at times, but always rewarding, I had thoroughly enjoyed my time on the path and I have a more intimate - and more affectionate - knowledge of that part of the coastline of my native country because of it. I will not have time to walk any more of the path this year as other projects beckon - but next spring I'll be back in Cornwall on the next section - to Marazion, and The Lizard and then about turn and head east towards South Devon. I'm hugely looking forward to it.

Tug-o-war on the beach

Distance:  10.5 miles
Total Distance Walked So Far: 273.5 miles
Accommodation ranking: N/A
Accommodation cost: N/A (home)


  1. Very impressive. I've been dreaming of doing the Cornish section of the SWCP for years, reading your blog has re-energized me to try to make it happen. I'll look forward to next year's installments of your trek.

  2. Hi rtch, thank you for your comment and glad you feel re-energised! Hope you do make it happen. I plan to be back on the path in the spring.